Michael Gravel

I seldom write two blogs in less than a month, but after my last blog on the summit with Biden and Putin we now come to the fiftieth anniversary of the “release” (I use that word loosely) of the Pentagon Papers. Sadly, one of the key players in that saga, Michael Gravel, passed away last week at the age of 91. So this blog is not directly related to life in Russia, but it seemed fitting to honor him in the only small way I know how.

WHAT WERE THE PENTAGON PAPERS? Given this event was 50 years ago I realize many readers may have never even heard of them and other folks in my generation may have forgotten a lot about them or did not see the significance of them at the time. The Pentagon Papers were over 4,000 pages describing the results of a massive government study of the Vietnam War in which the U.S. had been officially involved since 1954.

Most of us were able to read only a few excerpts from the papers. According to “insiders” who did, however, all aspects of the war and the political issues surrounding it were included. Everything from how each president had maneuvered around public opinion and press reports to mundane statistics from the field were there to read.

The study was top secret. It was sealed with two sets of secret codes. Politicians and other government officials who were permitted to read it were not allowed to be accompanied by aides in the special room reserved for reading the documents. No one was allowed to take notes on what they read.

The main conclusion of the report later became widely known, however, and proved to be the most controversial aspect of the papers. The authors of the study concluded that the war in Vietnam would never result in a victory for the U.S. There was no way America would win this war. Nevertheless, they directed the war should continue.

I am not privy to why they concluded the war could not be won. I only know what I read in various publications around that time and my personal conversations in the early 1970s with fellow U.S. Marines who had been there. The enemy was “squishy,” they said. They were never organized in a manner expected for conventional warfare. They struck from the bush in small groups and quickly disappeared either back into the bush or into one of the small villages. One often could not tell who was a combatant and who was just a poor resident. They recounted other difficulties in trying to fight an elusive opponent. Additionally, they said directives from their U.S. superiors were often unclear and confusing. I’m sure the report went over the far more complicating factors. The point was the authors of this study knew the U.S. could not win against this seemingly small opponent. Yet they insisted the war must go on.

Again, I don’t know all the details as to why continuing was imperative, but at stake was a lot of money, power, and pride at high levels. I think the majority of folks would agree that President Eisenhower’s warnings in his farewell speech in January of 1961 “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex” were to a large degree shaped by what he had already seen happening with Vietnam. I am one of a multitude of cynics who believe a lot of money was being made from this war by weapons sales, and those companies were rewarding certain politicians with hefty campaign contributions.

Another factor for continuing the war was the pride and insecurity of Washington politicians. In a recent article Paul Robinson refers to Lyndon B. Johnson’s biographer Doris Kearns’ quote of Johnson when asked about why he continued the war in Vietnam: “If I left that way and let the communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward, an unmanly man, a man without a spine.” So to keep Johnson’s masculinity intact young American men had to keep on dying in Vietnam. (Women were not permitted in combat roles at the time, by the way.)

I wrote in another blog that I think what I was told in 1971 in class by my high school social studies/history teacher was the standard line D.C. politicians wanted us all to believe. According to her we had to keep fighting in Vietnam because if the Communists won there, they would get a foothold in Asia and could perhaps then take over the world. I believed her. Of course, after U.S. troops left, Vietnam did in fact become one country, which is communist. I have not checked since the pandemic, but the last time I looked into it, Vietnam had a much stronger economy than when the Americans were present. And the Communists did not take over the world.

DANIEL ELLSBERG. The name most frequently associated with the Pentagon Papers becoming widely known is Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was a member of the commision that did the study and wrote the papers. He was disgusted with the conclusions I mentioned above. He leaked the contents to the New York Times, which promptly published some excerpts. The Nixon administration moved quickly and got the publication of the excerpts stopped. Ellsberg then leaked the papers to The Washington Post, which also published excerpts. They were also stopped as were a few more papers to whom Ellsberg leaked the contents.

Daniel Ellsberg

While the issue of the legality of the publication of the excerpts was tied up in court, Ellsberg sought to find a politician who would get the papers made public somehow. At first George McGovern, who planned to run for president the next year, indicated he would do so. After seeking counsel from his chief advisor he refused, however. It was too dangerous to his political future. Eventually Ellsberg was able to find someone who detested the conclusions of the report and who was not afaid to take the risk of revealing them. Senator Mike Gravel was the man.

MIKE GRAVEL was a first term senator from Alaska. Gravel said he thought probably every Senator thinks at least for a short term about what it would be like to be president. After reviewing the contents of the papers, he knew if he got them released he likely would never become president. It would be worth it, however. The American public needed to know.

He told fellow Senator Alan Cranston, “We as leaders are killing innocent people (and) it does not add to our national security.” He added, “The people of the United States have not lost confidence in the leadership of the nation, but the leaders have lost confidence in the people.” He said he believed when the leaders run the country by keeping the people either uninformed or misinformed about what they are doing and why they are doing it, there is no democracy.

(Caveat: Gravel did try to become the Democratic nominee for president in 2008 against Clinton and Biden, but by then the Democratic Party had joined hands with the pro-war neocon Republicans, and he never came close to getting nominated. He even tried again in 2020.)

Gravel’s plan to get the contents made public was to get them read into the congressional record. That would circumvent the problems associated with leaking them to the press. Gravel had already planned to filibuster a bill extending the mandatory military draft in America. He didn’t have enough votes to stop the draft, but he would wear his colleagues down by reading the contents of the papers. Thus, the information would be entered into the congressional record. He calculated that it would take him 30 hours to read just the pages which were essential. That would be longer than the record fillibuster of just over 24 hours by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond in 1957.

He had no doubts about whether it was the right thing to do, but he did realize there were dangers. He feared that if the wrong people found out, the FBI would show up at his office and prevent him from getting to the Senate. He called a contact he knew with Disabled Vietnam Veterans Againt the War and explained his dilemma. Shortly thereafter the halls leading to his office were filled with wheelchair bound veterans of the war. They swore to him that for the FBI to get to him they would have to climb over the vets’ bodies in the hallway.

On a totally different note, he worried about a practical and sensitive matter: bodily functions. He remembered that Senator Huey Long would just urinate on the floor during his filibusters. Gravel did not want to be crude. Therefore before he made his way to the Senate floor he made an appointment to go by the office of the Senate doctor to receive an enema and then get a colostomy bag attached to his person. While he was reading the documents into the record, his chief aide could empty the contents of the bag by a valve attached to his ankle.

Plan A, as he called it, did not work. When he prepared to start the filibuster, he saw clerks and staff there, and he warned them they may need to call home and tell family members they would be late. Republican Senator Robert Griffin heard him and was immediately suspicious. He objected and successfully prevented Gravel from being given the floor on the grounds no quorum was present. Gravel was devastated.

Gravel thought he had lost his chance, but his chief aide came to the rescue with “Plan B.” Although Gravel was only a first term senator, Senator Ted Kennedy had arranged for him to have chairmanship of a sub-committee. Gravel said it was the least prestigious of any sub-committee in Washington: Buildings and Grounds. Gravel quickly arranged a meeting of said sub-committee. The committee meeting started that night at 9:45 p.m. Gravel was actually the only member there. He had arranged with his friend Congrssman John Dow to appear and make a request of Gravel’s committee: “I want to build a federal building in my district.” On cue, Gravel responded, “We have no money for that because of the war in Vietnam.” He then started reading the contents of the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record.

I won’t go over all of the repercussions of Ellsberg’s and Gravel’s actions. Gravel later said the strongest criticism that he received came from the fact that as he was reading how the soldiers and civilians were killed, how villages with children were destroyed, bodies were maimed, he began to well up in tears. Then the tears flowed down his face as he continued. Finally, he broke down. The news outlets–even the NY Times–were unanimous in their condemnation of him because no real man, especially a senator, should shame the U.S. Senate with such behavior.

Eventually, however, charges and threatened actions against Gravel were dropped. He served in the Senate until January of 1981. The last of the U.S. troops in Vietnam were pulled out in 1975, although a peace treaty was signed in 1973.

LESSONS FOR TODAY. One of the reasons I am writing a blog on the Pentagon Papers is because I fear critical lessons have not been learned. I also believe the powers in D.C. do not want people to remember this event and would prefer to continue doing business as usual. America has been fighting in Afghanistan since October of 2001. It is essentially this generation’s Vietnam. President Biden’s announcement that American troops are to be withdrawn by the twentieth anniversary (this fall) is still being met with strong criticisms from both Republicans and some Democrats. Members of the American military have been there killing and being killed and injured for twenty years, and it appears that nothing was accomplished. Well, unless you are in the business of selling weapons to the U.S. government that is.

I believe that government leaders in general still do not trust the people. I don’t need to read reports or articles contending that U.S. politicians lie about other countries and create fictional monsters of them. I’ve seen it first hand from living in Russia. I’ve communicated with other Americans in other countries who say the same thing. I don’t like what is said about Russia, but what America has done in Syria (and then lied about it), as well as the ramifications of their actions in Yemen, are horrible. There are other examples.

The misinformation being spread to the U.S. public by the media also continues. I claimed in my last blog that there are reporters or newscasters who know very little if anything about Russia, yet still feel free to inject their opinions as facts into their newscasts. Eva Karene Bartlett, who has lived in Palestine, Syria, and now Russia, recently interviewed veteran journalist Steve Kinzer, who has spent two decades traveling around the world to complile his reports. He describes the way journalism has changed from his time of reporting on places and events you were actually there to see and learn about, rather than simply communicating what you were told to write by some U.S. government apparatchik.

As a positive aside, I also can claim I was right about something else I said in my last blog. I indicated that in my opinion many Americans no longer trust what the American media outlets tell them. I just read of a report done recently by The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on the topic of media trust in 49 countries. According to their study, America finished last of all 49 countries in terms of trusting their media. Only 29% of Americans say they trust their media for accurate information. In his article on this study, Jonathan Turley delves into the ways journalists and editors are shamed or even fired if they present any perspective that does not mesh with what the political and media movers and shakers have decided America needs to hear. Fortunately, many Americans are now seeing through the manipulation.

Then there are the cases against Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Snowden saw James Clapper lying to a Senate Select Committe on Intelligence and leaked the information that proved Clapper lied. Snowden is now in exile in Russia, and Clapper is still free and can still be seen on newscasts from time to time providing his unique insights. Julian Assange has been treated horribly for supposedly advising someone who leaked secret information. Assange didn’t even do any hacking and his life has been pretty much destroyed for his part advancing the truth about what Washington leaders were doing. At least Gravel and Ellsberg were vindicated and allowed freedom. Now those with the courage to release the truth in America get sent to prison or worse. The liars in government, on the other hand, are free to become news analysts. The way to advance your career now is, “Hear no evil, see no evil, and if you do see it, report that it is Russia’s fault.”

Finally, I wanted to write this article to honor Michael Gravel. As I said above he passed away this past week on June 26 just as some of us were revisiting what he did 50 years ago this month. There were a number of political issues I’m sure I disagreed with Gravel on. But America was never about agreeing on everything with everybody. The main thing was he hated war. He never lost sight of the fact that good people die in war—even if those wars actually have nothing to do with U.S. national security. That people in high places exploit the courage of these young people is a horrible facet of American politics. Gravel was not among the politicians Mike Lofgren described as shouting loudly at each other in front of the cameras and then going out for drinks together afterwards. Gravel acted on his revulsion at the meaningless wars with integrity and conviction.

Consortium News recently starting publishing excerpts from the book, A Political Odyssey, the book Gravel and Joe Lauria did on the events I have been describing. My wife came in while I was reading the first article. I started telling her about it, but then I just pushed my computer across the table and asked her to read it for herself. As she read, I saw tears start coming down. She said, “You mean…an American politician did that? So the people would know the truth???” I told her yes, there was a time when some American politicians were motivated by the desire to tell the truth and had the courage to act on convictions. I said, “You don’t get an enema and have a colostomy bag attached for political theater.” (For the first excerpt from Consortium News see You can find all the excerpts on their website.)

I say a lot of negative things about America. And while I have gotten some very kind and encouraging responses, I’ve gotten some from people who do not appreciate what they see as my lack of patriotism. Sometimes it hurts a bit; many times it triggers anger. In this view truly patriotic people only say good things about their country. But the bad responses I’ve gotten are NOTHING compared to what Mike Gravel and Daniel Ellsberg endured. In my opinion, they exhibited more patriotism than their cultured despisers could ever imagine. I honor them for doing what they did.


As is commonly known, Presidents Biden and Putin recently held their summit in Geneva. Unfortunately I had a bad case of bronchitis and could not watch everything. I would watch as much as I had the strength for, then read what transcripts and articles I could. I would read for short periods, take a break and resume reading. I also watched a number of news clips from America. Most of those focused on how Biden “stood up” to Putin.

The Western press really didn’t get much into the specific issues discussed in the summit. The interpretations I saw from America of how Biden did broke down pretty much along party lines. The MSM, with a few exceptions, tried to put the best light possible on how Biden performed vis-a-vis Putin. The majority of commentators I saw on FOXNEWS took the other position—Putin dominated Biden. To what degree they were successful in moving toward the goal to “develop stable and predictable relations” between the two countries got lost in the partisan political noise I fear. When FOX called in Mike Pompeo as their foreign policy expert I knew not much in the way of deep analysis was going to happen. I think a lot of my American readers will agree with me that newscasts today have lost the focus on “just the facts.” Each talking head feels free to inject her or his own presuppositions and views into the conversation—whether that “journalist” knows anything at all about Russia or not.

Therefore I’ll set forth a few basic points about how the summit looked to this American living in small town Russia. I’ll give a summary of what I believe was positive about their meeting and what was disappointing. I admit these are my opinions. I guess that is why one writes a blog to some degree. Nevertheless, I am aware that there are many articles analyzing the summit in greater detail and with more expertise than I, so at the end of this blog entry I’ll provide links to a few articles by Russia specialists I have come to respect. I’ll add brief comments explaining the focus of each article.

A little background. The summit was requested by President Biden. The request came shortly after NATO sent out an alarm that it had discovered that Russia was conducting a massive buildup of combat ready troops near the Ukrainian border. Russian Defense Minister Shoigu stated openly that yes that was true. He said Russia was doing nothing in secret. Russia had deployed two armies and three airborne units in close proximity to the Russian/Ukrainian border. Russia was preparing for battle if Ukraine and the West continued to push for conflict. He also told the Americans he could not guarantee the security of their two ships entering the Black Sea. NATO and the U.S. backed down, the ships turned around, and the “Ukrainian crisis” subsided. Shortly thereafter Biden requested a summit with Putin. In general I think everyone agreed that, as forecasted, there were no major breakthroughs, developments or announcements as a result of the summit.


First, they agreed that the Russian and American ambassadors would return to their respective embassies, and there would be resumption of normal consular functioning. For some folks this was viewed largely as a symbolic step I suppose, but for those of us who live abroad it is unsettling when the embassy is not fully staffed. I also think having the ambassador present to communicate directly with the foreign government is very important. That is one of the main functions of an embassy. After the summit there was an announcement that regular, albeit limited, flights would resume between Russia and America. The borders between the two countries will open June 28. People still cannot get visas right now, but TASS reported the embassies are beginning conversations on the policies of issuing visas.

Second, there was agreement that negotiations will begin on the new START treaty. A general desire for reduction of weapons is a good thing in my opinion. They made reference to the statement by Reagan and Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never by won and should never be fought.”

More than that, however, I gathered from some of the comments by American advisers that there finally seems to be an awareness among American team members of the advances that Russia has made in its weapons systems—both offensive and defensive. They know that Russia has hypersonic missiles that can evade all the American ABM systems. The reference to Russia as “a regional power” by Barack Obama and others will hopefully be thrown in the dustbin sometime soon.

Also, related to this point an “unnamed source” from within Biden’s circle of advisors acknowledged the fear that Russia and China will work together on military matters in the future, and they consider this very dangerous. Ray McGovern has stated that while there is nothing official, Russia and China have a “virtual military alliance.” The U.S. would do well to consider the ramifications of that alliance. The simple fact that the U.S. team maybe—just maybe—realizes that open conflict with Russia might not go well for them is a positive step in curtailing America’s military aggression.


In general I would say the disappointing aspects of the summit for me were primarily related to the language that was used by the Americans. There was still a condescending tone in much of what Biden and others said. On June 10 he gave a rousing speech in the UK declaring “the U.S. is back,” and defiantly promised he was going to tell Putin “what I want him to know.” America is unwilling to recognize Russia as a country with equal nation status. Fortunately President Putin takes all this American hubris in stride. On June 4 at a forum in St. Petersburg he said, “Russia-U.S. relations have become hostage to the internal political processes that are taking place in the United States.”

Biden is still to some degree stuck in the mentality of his former boss Obama. The U.S. is THE “exceptional and indispensable” nation in the world. Again to borrow from Ray McGovern, the opposite of “indispensable” is “dispensable.” There is a limit to what can be achieved in international relations as long as America regards other nations as dispensable and unexceptional. Putin responded to this attitude in his post summit conference: “It’s just that when a person says that the U.S. is an exceptional nation, with special, exclusive rights to practically the entire world, I cannot go along with that. God created us all equal and gave us equal rights.” Quite ironic that the Russian president lectured America on his belief that God created us equal and gave us all certain equal rights.

The Americans continued to insist that Russia must accept a “ruled based international order.” As Caitlin Johnson recently wrote, what they really mean is a “Washington-Based International Order.” The problem is there are plenty of international laws already in place, and America does not believe it has to submit to them. For example, recent documents have revealed that after confiscating an Iranian tanker, the US sold around 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil the tanker contained. The American government wants to set the rules for this orderly system to which other countries must submit, but believes it has the right to steal a tanker of oil and then keep the profits from the sale of its contents. From listening to Putin and others on his diplomatic team, there will not be any major breakthroughs until the U.S. surrenders what it perceives to be its place as leader and commander of the world.

Second, some of Biden’s statements left one wondering if he was terribly uninformed, extremely forgetful, or both. He criticized Russia for interfering in the elections of other nations. He stated, “The U.S. never interferes in other countries elections.” He then asked rhetorically, “How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it?”

In the five years I’ve been writing this blog the highest readership by far came from two blogs I did in January of 2018 responding to an article by Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter in Foreign Affairs magazine. A number of online sites ran those two blogs. I detailed the fallacies in the FA article. I also included a discussion of the July 15, 1996 cover story in Time magazine titled, “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisors Helped Yeltsin Win.” The article discussed the “open secret” of how President Clinton sent a cadre of highly paid American advisors (pretending to be antennae salesmen) and plenty of IMF money to turn the tide in the Russian election and get Boris Yeltsin re-elected as president of the Russian Federation.

I have mentioned in more than one blog how Victoria Nuland’s intercepted phone call revealed the work of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in conducting the coup to overthrow the legally elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych—in which she specially mentioned Biden’s support. We also know of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s laughing comment, “We came, we saw, he died,” in reference to the overthrow of Libya’s leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. Yet Biden and others continue to insist that Russia is the one who must repent of election interference, although America’s own investigations found no evidence of interference.

There were other comments that clearly indicated ignorance on the part of the American diplomatic team over the issue of China and Russia. Biden “warned” Putin, “You’ve got a multi-thousand mile border with China…China is seeking to be the most powerful economy in the world with the most powerful military in the world.” He later said to the press, “Let me choose my words. Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now. Russia is being squeezed by China.”

America sees the growing Chinese economy and military as a threat, and assumes Russia should as well. Russia does not see things that way. I don’t think Vladimir Putin cares if China’s economy becomes the largest in the world. Russia has a great trade relationship with China and has a debt surplus with them. China signed an agreement last year to buy natural gas from Russia for the next 30 years. I would hardly call that “being squeezed.”

Further, unlike the U.S., China doesn’t sanction other countries in order to compensate for its diplomatic inadequacies. As for their military, China has far fewer nuclear weapons than either the U.S. or Russia. Their navy is huge, but, unlike the U.S., China does not try to dictate to Russia or any country what its own policies should be. In June of 2019 Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to Putin as “my best friend.” So while there were some statements that indicated the U.S. is wary of the growing closeness between Russia and China, the Americans are diplomatically incompetent when it comes to engaging in dialog that would prevent this increasing closeness between what it calls its two main adversaries.

POST SUMMIT. After the summit the huge differences in the press conferences of the two presidents were glaring. Biden insisted that they would not have a joint conference. He did not allow any members of the Russian press to be present at his conference, and he began by stating that he had been given a list of the names of journalists he was to call on. This was not a real press conference in the minds of many. Even normally Biden-friendly CNN’s Jeff Zeleny complained, “I have never seen a president…who is so protected by his aides in terms of not wanting (them) to ask him questions.” Everything about the Biden conference looked orchestrated.

Putin’s press conference was attended by press from around the world. This is in addition to the interview he gave NBC before the conference. He willingly engaged in “give and take” with reporters who challenged him on various issues. I have never seen a president who can pull facts out of his head like Putin. No one ever caught him off guard or unprepared. In what I saw, the “sparring” never got fully confrontational, but, as with most such conferences, there were some tough questions and tense moments.

Finally, I was quite surprised at what Putin said about Biden after the summit. He said Biden is a veteran politician who is “collected, professional, and skillful.” Putin was asked about Biden’s mental capabilities because anyone who watched Biden could see he struggled at points to stay coherent. When asked would he still call Putin a “killer,” Biden fumbled in silence for several moments and never rendered a coherent answer.

Putin responded that Biden had called him after he had made the “killer” comment in the interview with George Stephanopolis. Without going into detail Putin said he was satisfied with Biden’s explanation. As far as Biden’s mental capabilities and the stammering, Putin defended Biden by saying he had travelled across many time zones and had many meetings in just a few days. He said we all have trouble focusing after we travel such great distances.

He was then asked about Biden’s notes which, even in the photo op, Biden kept fumbling around with. Putin said everyone uses notes and some people are in the habit of using them more than others. In other words, reporters opened the door for Putin to elaborate on many of the rumors about Biden’s mental competence, but he chose to remain diplomatic and positive. The difference between the diplomacy of the two leaders could not have been more stark.


Obviously the above summary is not a full study of the issues related to the summit. I include the links below to a few of the articles that were helpful to me. Gilbert Doctorow has posted three blogs recently on the summit. Two were before the summit, and one was written afterwards. The articles are brief but very helpful summaries of the important issues. He is especially good in his discussions of Russian military capabilities.

This is an article by Ray McGovern that I saw posted on Ron Paul’s site. McGovern has as much experience as anyone in the area of important summits. He is very knowledgeable of Russia, and was a key advisor to American presidents back in the days of the USSR. He also gave before and after interviews with my friend Regis Trembley on Regis’ youtube channel. Both interviews were excellent. Here is a link to the interview after the summit.

This is a republication of an article written by Jack Matlock in 2018 on the American intelligence reports saying Russia had interfered with the U.S. election. Jack Matlock is another long time Russian expert who understands and explains what “intelligence reports” really are and how the U.S. diplomats have analyzed them over the years. Matlock is no Trump fan for sure. He has written much on his unhapppiness with the Trump presidency. Yet Matlock is of the old school that believes you don’t let your political preferences influence your evaluation of evidence in the search for truth. He clearly shows the intellectual dishonesty by James Clapper and many others in the way they lied about what these agencies had discovered on Russian interference.

Another article by Ray McGovern, this one written after the summit. He explains how the old method of “trust but verify” has been turned on its head in current U.S. policy, especially with reference to Russia.

This link is to a brief article by Paul Finlay Robinson who explores to what degree the Russophobia of the Trump years may be coming to a conclusion. He does not believe it is dead, but he does believe much of the Russophobia was more about being anti-Trump than about U.S. “national security.” Perhaps with Trump gone Russophobia will fade in importance.

In conclusion, there is some room for hope that the two countries did achieve a meaningful beginning to establish a fully diplomatic relationship. Of course, the proverbial “jury” is still out. In my opinion, the central question is will the reality of the advances made by Russia and China convince American leaders to surrender their commitment to a uni-polar world order? I do fear that they will not do so without a serious and senseless confrontation. The Russians have an expression, however, that “hope dies last.” My deep and abiding hope is that the voices crying for reconciliation and peace between my two worlds would be heard and heeded above the senseless clamor and babel of the dogs of war.